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Column: Session has high and low points

By Barb Haley, Minnesota District 21A Representative

Last week, Minnesota's new, two-year state budget was signed into law. Prior to the governor's signature, each component of the budget received the Legislature's approval during a one-day special session last month.

With this year's divided Legislature, both sides worked to find compromise to pass the state budget — which funds priorities like roads and bridges, education, and public safety — without the proposed $12 billion in tax increases that were center stage at the Capitol this year. There are a number of good provisions that will positively impact our district's families.

Local "wins"

Perhaps the biggest win for families, farmers and business owners is that they are spared the massive tax increases that were proposed in the governor's budget, including the taxes on transportation. This means there will be no 20 cent per gallon (70% increase) gas tax hike, no vehicle sales tax increase, and no license tab fee increases. The current gas tax will remain at 28.5 cents and the auto parts sales tax revenue the state is already collecting will continue to go toward roads and bridges.

Fortunately, the final proposal did not include the $68 million cut to nursing home funding. This proposal would have devastated nursing facilities' budgets and jeopardized care for seniors.

In addition, licensing and some regulation for assisted living facilities was passed to provide residents and families the peace of mind of skilled nursing care.

Also included was comprehensive legislation to address the opioid crisis, a cut in income taxes for middle-class Minnesotans, and a 2% increase in per-pupil education funding.

The state's reinsurance plan was also extended, which has proven effective in lowering health insurance premiums each of the last two years. That said, I think more needs to be done to combat high insurance rates in southeastern Minnesota, and I'll continue to advocate for solutions to make health insurance more affordable.

Disappointments

Despite the highs, the 2019 legislative session also resulted in a few lows. The session's most disappointing outcome is the continuation of the sick tax. This extension raises the cost of Minnesotans' health care, makes every trip to the doctor more expensive, and disproportionately hurts those requiring the most treatment and facing already high medical bills. The sick tax was scheduled to expire at the end of December, and I believe not reevaluating how the accumulated funds are used was a major missed opportunity.

Another concern for me was the process that played out at the end of session and the lack of transparency it featured. Almost every major budget bill was ultimately decided in private by just three people: the governor and two legislative leaders. This decision-making process should be carried out by all 201 legislators who've been elected by their constituents to make laws and assemble budgets. The process should also be conducted in public, where Minnesotans can follow along and offer input.

I said many times during this budget session that my goal was to pass a responsible budget to meet our region's shared priorities without tax increases. I heard from many of you about your tax burdens and that you feel our community is already taxed enough. So I'm pleased that we were able to make investments in needed areas and avoid the massive tax increases that were on the table this year.

And finally, thanks to community members' efforts, we passed legislation to name the new Highway 63 bridge in Red Wing the "Eisenhower Bridge of Valor" in honor of all veterans and first responders — past, present, and future.

With another session wrapping up, I thank you for the trust and confidence you have placed in me. It is an extraordinary privilege to serve our communities in St. Paul. As always, please contact me if you have any questions. If you would like to receive my weekly email updates during session, please send an email to me at rep.barb.haley@house.mn or call me at 651-296-8635.